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Blueberries giving strawberries a run for the money at retail

by Brian Gaylord | August 09, 2010
Andy Gustavson, produce manager for Ben Lomond Market in Ben Lomond, CA, and produce supervisor for sister store Scotts Valley Market in Scotts Valley, CA, told The Produce News in late July that strawberries were selling well but that August brings competition for other items.

August signals a push in peaches, plums and melons - and locally grown corn.

Strawberry volume typically is high in April, May and June.

Mr. Gustavson said that his customers want locally grown produce and he accommodates that request as best he can. The day he spoke with The Produce News, he received strawberries from Kika's Farms in Watsonville, CA.

"They [strawberries] were ordered yesterday, picked today and in our store today," Mr. Gustavson said.

"Blueberries are selling well," Mr. Gustavson said. While strawberry sales in his store mirror the industry as No. 1 in the berry patch, the gap is closing between strawberry sales and blueberry sales, he said.

"I've got customers who grow blueberries," Mr. Gustavson added.

Blueberries sell well at Ben Lomond Market year-round, he said. At present, the store is relying on blueberries grown in Washington state.

"Pricing on blueberries is $2.50 for a pint," Mr. Gustavson said, a good price for his customers, he said.

Raspberries have been a different story.

"The slow mover has been raspberries," Mr. Gustavson said. "Big raspberries last two days on the shelf. No matter what company and where they're coming from, they eat OK and look terrible."

Mr. Gustavson has tapered back to buying just one or two cases of raspberries at a time for Ben Lomond Market.

"I used to order six to eight cases of raspberries at a time," Mr. Gustavson said. Even some big retail chains aren't putting raspberries on ad, he said.

Mr. Gustavson attributed raspberries' drop in popularity this year in part to the abundance - and gaining popularity - of blueberries. Blueberry sales have "put a dent in raspberry and strawberry sales," he said.

Last year Ben Lomond Market had blueberries all year long, including from New Zealand, Mr. Gustavson said. Blueberries in a six-ounce pack are a popular item at his store, he said.

Over the past couple of years, cranberries for the holidays don't sell as well as they used to, Mr. Gustavson said.

"Cranberry growers sell in bulk to the cranberry juice guys," Mr. Gustavson said, adding that it is harder now to order cranberries for his store.

"You have to buy [cranberries] ahead," Mr. Gustavson said. "If you try to buy after Thanksgiving to mid-December, wholesalers have used them up."

Some stores take cranberries and freeze them so that they also have fresh- frozen cranberries at Easter.

"Throw a few cases [of cranberries] in the cooler, then take them out 10 days before Easter and thaw them out."

Mr. Gustavson used to buy golden raspberries for Ben Lomond Market, but no longer does.

"They [golden raspberries] didn't do well," Mr. Gustavson said. "They ate well but customers didn't like them."

Star Market in Salinas, CA, is a mid-sized, independent, family-owned store. The store gets virtually all its berries from Watsonville, CA-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates.

Star Market produce manager Ryan Souter told The Produce News in late July that the store "seems to push a lot of berries year round."

"Price is the decider" with Star Market shoppers, Mr. Souter said. "If it's not in season, it's more pricey."

Stone fruit challenges berries for sales late in the summer, but strawberry sales "stay good," Mr. Souter said.

Blueberries continue to sell better than raspberries at Star Market. Blackberries are selling "OK," Mr. Souter said.

"When we can we pick up directly from Driscoll," Mr. Souter said. Star Market receives much of its fresh produce from Joe Lopiparo, a produce buyer in the San Francisco Bay area who handles blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and cranberries.

Star Market also receives imported berries and other product from West Sacramento-based wholesaler Nor-Cal Produce Inc. Nor-Cal delivers fresh produce to Star Market three or four times a week.

"Once in a while we try currants and golden raspberries," Mr. Souter said.

Star Market carries conventional and organic fruit from Driscoll's berry patch.

The store carries Ocean Spray cranberries and "really push[es] cranberries" at the holidays, Mr. Souter said. Name recognition helps because shoppers "look at 'Ocean Spray' cranberries," he said.

Star Market puts cranberries on ad two weeks before Thanksgiving and two weeks before Christmas.

"They'll [cranberries will] be on ad big time" for the holidays," Mr. Souter said. "We had organic cranberries last year."